Monday, February 12, 2007

Cory Oberndorfer reviews Luc Besson's Angel-A at Sundance

The French film Angel-A by director/screenwriter Luc Besson made its American premiere at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. The film tells the story of Andre, a down-on-his-luck con man who owes way too much money to a smoother, more fashionable criminal that Andre can only dream of emulating, is ready to end it all by leaping off a bridge into the Seine. Fate intervenes, however, in the form of Angela, a leggy blonde in a minidress, who jumps into the river before Andre. He saves her, and then blames her for thwarting his own suicide attempt. As an apology, Angela agrees to help Andre with his financial problems. So begins the tale of Angela and Andre as they eat, drink, and dance their way through Paris. Before he knows it, Angela makes Andre see that he is stronger, braver, and smarter than he thinks and even that he is capable of love. All he needs is someone to love him back.

Besson has a strong resume of action films including Nikita, Leon, The Big Blue and The Fifth Element. With Angel-A, he makes an uneven transition to more heartfelt storytelling, creating a character based on his own insecurities. The premise of the film is definitely nothing new (It’s a Wonderful Life comes to mind), but Besson still shows his flair for capturing imagery in a way unique to a tired genre.

The film was presented in black and white. This choice could be mistaken as a tip-of-the-hat to the film noir genre (complete with criminals and moral ambiguity), but the black and white becomes one of many not-so-subtle metaphors for opposing but complimentary elements (good & evil, yin & yang). The short, ugly criminal plays against the tall, beautiful angel. One cannot find love and the other loves too much. One continues to repeat mistakes while the other has all the answers.

While the story may be elementary, Luc Besson infuses the film with plenty of action and humor in beautifully composed shots. The city of Paris becomes a secondary character with both its scenic historical landmarks and its seedy underground. The unseasoned actors’ performances were obviously aided by direction from Besson who, as the cameraman, was never more than a few feet away from the action.

Overall, Besson presents a film that is easy to digest with little thought and blends a sentimental, timeless story with filmmaking choices unique to the expected genre. As he ages, Besson’s reflection upon his own life breathes a more personal depth into the characters he creates and will likely affect future films.

*parts of the film’s description were taken from the festival catalogue

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